hile hanging a piece of art in her new home, a woman unintentionally knocks a hole in her wall, revealing something sinister on the other side, in this twisted psychological horror from actress Janina Gavankar and Russo Schelling. Co-written by the pair, this elevated horror was fittingly selected to play in SXSW’s Midnight Shorts competition and it is as eerie and strange as the program’s reputation would suggest. Gavankar, known for her performances in the Apple TV+ original series The Morning Show and currently drawing rave reviews opposite Ben Affleck in the sports drama The Way Back, proves she’s a triple threat with her leading role in Stucco, providing a portrait of a woman beset on all sides by threats: real, supernatural, and from her own mind. If you were looking for a claustrophobic horror film to set the tone for your current or eventual self-quarantine, Stucco’s exploration of agoraphobia is the perfect watch!
In the film, Gavankar and Schelling “monsterize” their experiences with depression and anxiety to create a cathartic release via hair-raising horror. The modesty of the production is turned into an advantage via the script, as Gavankar’s character’s distress—a mix of a toxic relationship and mental health issues, prevents her from leaving the house. The team, in particular, cinematographer, Quyen Tran, leverages this single location to create an uncanny sense of unease with an odd god-like camera angle of the kitchen. The various shifts in perspective throughout the film turn what would be a familiar and safe place into a nightmarish playground. Simple and effective, Gavankar and Schelling’s use of framing force us to see the house the way the trapped character feels, and it’s altogether chilling. “We’ve always wanted to make work that examines the part of ourselves we’re least proud of. Sometimes before we can move on, we are forced to vomit our past, or sit in the mess we’ve made. Stucco is this, for us,” explains Gavankar to Short of the Week.
Did we mention Stucco was gross? The impressive practical effects by artist Frank Ippolito, who is a master in creature-making, are integral to the film’s lasting impact. A long human-like tongue probing through the wall is absolute nightmare fuel and we imagine it would be a fun scene to watch with a lively audience. It took four pulleys and two puppeteers on the other side of the wall to achieve the tongue’s motion and three people to create the…no spoilers, but…truly traumatizing “thing” at the film’s end.
In writing Stucco, Gavankar and Schelling had quite a few industry professionals at their fingertips, including Gavankar’s The Way Back co-star Ben Affleck. “I pitched the tongue sequence to Ben and the look on his face, the way he twisted his face up, and he cringed so intensely, I knew I had something. I was like, if I can get this dude to twist up that much at the thought, I’ve got something!” Gavankar recently shared with THR. The 17-minute short also features appearances from established talents Debra Messing and Aisha Tyler as well as original music by Questlove.
Stucco is an incredibly crafted horror short that is cringe-worthy and weird in all the right ways. While you won’t be able to see it in Austin, we recommend you gather your friends for a watch party because the reactions will be worth it!
Gavankar and Schelling have several projects in the works at various levels of development in the TV, Film, and Podcast world. One of which is a feature comparable to Stucco in tone and practical effects and we can’t wait to find out more!
This post is an entry in SXSW Shorts Week, which celebrates the selected short films of the SXSW 2020 program in the wake of the festival’s cancellation. Follow along on our site, on YouTube, and on social media via the hashtag #sxswshorts.